Will Huawei ban delay UK operators 5G launch?

EE, O2, Three and Vodafone are planning commercial 5G launch in H2 of 2019 but a ban on Huawei may delay their plans

The four UK operators are planning to launch 5G services in H2 of 2019 and a full fledged plan on 2020 but a partial or complete ban on Huawei may delay their plan by at least 18 – 24 months says Assembly Research. 

First, the delay of 18-24 months looks exaggerated as the operators are more concerned about 4G investment based on Huawei technologies and want to restrict their investment in base stations and transmission equipment with respect to replacement as UK mobile operators are currently using Huawei in a significant percentage of their networks, however all have committed to only using Huawei in the access, rather than the core which is considered to be more sensitive.

Second, 5G will be deployed globally on a large scale in 2020 once the 5G device ecosystem develops and matures. In terms of 5G coverage, the UK government has set two deadlines – one for high quality coverage where people live, work and travel to be achieved by 2025; and 5G access by 2027 for the majority of the population.

UK Operators 5G Plan:

EE is planning to switch on 5G in 16 UK cities in 2019. In the first phase, 5G will be launched in London, Cardiff, Edinburgh, Belfast, Birmingham and Manchester. In the second phase, EE will be introduced in ten more UK cities – Glasgow, Newcastle, Liverpool, Leeds, Hull, Sheffield, Nottingham, Leicester, Coventry and Bristol. The first 1,500 sites that EE is upgrading to 5G in 2019 will carry 25% of all data across the whole network, covering 15% of the UK population. 

With respect to 5G devices, EE will launch 5G services with multiple smartphone partners, as well as an EE 5G home router with external antenna, to showcase the power of 5G for broadband.

In 2019, O2 will begin the rollout of its 5G network in Belfast, Cardiff, Edinburgh and London. In the second phase, UK will see rollout in the remaining cities to coincide with the wider availability of 5G handsets in 2020.

In H2 2019, Three will launch with a data-only Fixed Wireless Access (FWA) product as part of a £2 billion network investment. The initial launch will be in London and other major cities where they see value to be greatest. This forms part of Three’s tiering strategy – to upgrade the busiest sites on its network.

Vodafone is already trialling 5G in Birmingham, Bristol, Cardiff, Glasgow, Liverpool, London and Manchester. The company will be delivering 5G to cities such as Birkenhead, Blackpool, Bournemouth, Guildford, Newbury, Portsmouth, Plymouth, Reading, Southampton, Stoke-on-Trent, Warrington and Wolverhampton in later half of 2019.

Even UK operators are planning for a large scale deployment in 2020 so there would be only a slight delay in 5G deployment deadline of operators as UK is a small country and has a limited geography. 

With the US, Australia and New Zealand urging caution over relying on telecommunications equipment made by Huawei on security concerns. UK has taken the first step by conducting a review of the telecoms supply chain in November 2018. 

The review focuses on economic analysis, to understand the supply chain and the incentives of buyers and vendors; technical analysis, to identify network security risks, and future requirements; sector intelligence, to understand the approaches to network security taken by operators and vendors; and international engagement, to take stock of other countries’ approaches. Once the review is complete, its findings will be shared to the operators by the UK government.

A full restriction of Huawei would see operators face additional and significant unforeseen spend on replacing equipment and leave the resilience of the supply chain effectively dependent on only two vendors with a loss in competition that has driven technological progress.

Not only the time delay, the cost to the UK economy of delay in 5G rollout would vary between £4.5 billion and £6.8 billion depending on the severity of restriction placed on Huawei. But the big question is will UK compromise on telco security and enterprise security for the sake of Huawei on the basis of the report findings. If there is no security flaw then there is a win-win for both parties.



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